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Space Science

NASA Plans On Bringing Back Martian Rocks 184

Posted by timothy
from the what's-a-couple-of-billion-for-some-rocks dept.
FortKnox writes: "In this Y! article, NASA is planning on sending a robotic mission to Mars in an attempt to bring back Martian stuff (rocks, soil, etc...). Looks like its a tough mission to plan for; they are calling it 'Apollo without the astronauts.'" I would like to go to Mars in person, but if they're spending my money already, I'd like them to please use robots for a while.
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NASA Plans On Bringing Back Martian Rocks

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  • by astroboy (1125) <ljdursi@gmail.com> on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:03PM (#2375872) Homepage
    What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

    There's a limit to how much experimental equipment you can shove onto a Mars probe. Some amazingly cool things have been done, but once you get the rocks back to Earth, you can unleash everything you've got in the lab on 'em.

    What other benefits do we get out of the mission?
    Anything which pushes the boundaries of the engineering -- getting the unmanned probe to launch itself back to Earth -- will have great impact on both the Space program and terrestrial spin-offs. And that's quite apart from the science.
  • Because we can (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MikeyNg (88437) <mikeyng@nOspaM.gmail.com> on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:10PM (#2375904) Homepage

    People are asking why go all the way to Mars and then bring stuff back when we can analyze it there? I think people are missing part of the point. If you're going to send people there eventually, you'd like for them to have a way to get back. There are all kinds of tricky things involved with leaving a planet. Heck, landing on the moon and reaching lunar escape velocity was hard enough!


    Part of the goal is to examine rocks from Mars so that we get a better understanding of Mars, our solar system, and space in general. I think another part of the goal is to actually land a craft on Mars and then bring it back. Carrying all that extra fuel to reach Martian escape velocity is going to be expensive, but we need to know that kind of stuff.


  • by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:15PM (#2375923) Homepage
    Really, with all the cutbacks in NASA, you would think that they would want to make a mission like this more popular - think about it - battlebots on Mars (just think of the lag time) - the suspense as pictures come back, the contestants make their move - and wait....

    On a more serious note it would be neat to have hobbyists designing bots for mars on a competitive level to see who can come up with the most efficent/reliable/lightweight etc design. The guys at NASA have great ideas and implementations - but I think that the bazzar vs cathedral idea could help here.
  • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:25PM (#2375976) Homepage
    No, you don't get the same information. The lab equipment on Earth is far superior to what we can get onto a spacecraft. Ultimately, is it cheaper to ship the lab to Mars, or the samples to Earth? (Answer: the latter.)

    Additionally, having people actually handling the rocks is more important that you might think. People are intereactive, able to notice things not thought about during mission planning, then able to persue those questions. If you built a probe, you make a set of assumptions about what kinds of instruments you need and tests you'll do. You have to limit yourself more than you would if you have a person actually handling the rocks.

    The fullest continuation of this logic is that we ultimately will want to put people on Mars for these same reasons. However, we're nowhere near ready for that at this time.

  • Re:Mars (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kaimiike1970 (444130) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:27PM (#2375983) Homepage
    Following this logic to it's conclusion, we should never send a manned mission. It will always be cheaper 10-20 years in the future. Are you still using your IBM PC jr. circa 1985?
  • Re:Motto (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ivan256 (17499) on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:35PM (#2376017)
    People today don't have the stomach for what it would take to set up a sustainable colony on Mars with today's technology. In the 1700's when europeans crossed the Atlantic they lost numerous colonists and expiditions before one took. And that was going to a place on the same planet where they know had to potential to sustain life. Without further information do you really think we could make a perminantly sustainable Mars colony with todays technology, and not loose a single person? Imagine how fast people of today would can the project after they saw the deaths of the colonists on TV a few hours later.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 01, 2001 @05:48PM (#2376066)
    1) What can we do by inspecting the rocks in person we can't do remotely? We should be able to do everything except touch it.

    We can do anything we didn't originally think of, didn't think we needed, that requires equipment that is not rugged enough or small enough to send, etc ...
  • by fossa (212602) <pat7@gm[ ]et ['x.n' in gap]> on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:05PM (#2376128) Journal

    Absolutely. We can also take advantage of any new advances that might allow us to study the rocks better. IIRC, the rocks (from mars originally) that were studied a few years ago that some believed showed evidence of bacteria had been dug up long ago and had been sitting in a storage somewhere.

  • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:25PM (#2376199)
    There's a limit to how much experimental equipment you can shove onto a Mars probe.

    Of course the price of one manned mission would equal hundreds if not thousands of probes which could cover many different parts of the planet with different objectives. A manned mission would be very limited in scope and certainly not worth the price.
  • What's the point? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by soybased (257974) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:26PM (#2376200)
    Personally I think we should be colonizing the moon right now.

    Once we've got a solid production/launch facility on the moon then we can start sending dumb little probes out to pick up rocks on mars.

    I'm gonna be dissapointed if space ships arent commonplace by the time I'm old. Bah!
  • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:37PM (#2376241) Homepage
    its a much better idea to bring back a near earth asteroid (NEA), or mine a near earth asteroid and bring back the good bits.

    Why?:

    a) NEA's are nearer
    b) mining asteroids can turn a profit (Mars probably can't)
    c) we can use ION drives to get there (like Deep Space 1 used), but they don't work to-from Mars due to the gravity of Mars
    d) there's no chance that we catch the never-get-overs (the asteroids should be dead)
    e) they contain useful stuff like water (steam is a fairly good rocket fuel in fact)
    f) getting lots of stuff from NEAs to orbit is looking cheaper than getting it from the earth, therefore it may be possible to send people to Mars using the fuel collected from NEAs; in the meantime we can turn a profit boosting satellites into GEOsynchronous orbit and such like...
    g) Basically Mars would be a white elephant right now. Cool as heck, but pointless.
  • by egomaniac (105476) on Monday October 01, 2001 @06:53PM (#2376304) Homepage
    It's important to keep in mind that the money doesn't just vanish. It's not like NASA has a huge furnace that they shovel money into while they work on the spacecraft.

    Most of the money ends up paying people's salaries and buying components from aerospace/electronics companies. A portion of it will end up right back in your hands as the recipients spend their money on other things and it circulates back to you. Government projects like this usually create value, rather than destroy it, because these people might not have jobs or be producing anything without taxpayer dollars, and there wouldn't be as much money in circulation. Generally, everybody benefits.
  • by styopa (58097) <hillsr@c[ ]rado.edu ['olo' in gap]> on Monday October 01, 2001 @07:13PM (#2376361) Homepage
    Sigh

    Um, you completely missed the point. We are not going to Mars to check if it is economically viable for mining.
    • We are going to Mars because that is the first step to becoming an interplanetary society.
    • We are going to Mars because it is like the Earth and can tell us more about our planet, and other planets in general. The scientific data that could be gathered from Mars is quite large.
    • We are going to Mars because it is cool. NASA needs something big to turn the heads of the population. They need public support.

    Why should we NOT go to a NEA?
    • Space mining at this point in time is unrealistic. From designing the equiptment to do the mining, to transporting the material. It is extremely expensive, and not profitable at this point in time. If it was I gaurentee that companies would be seriously looking into it.
    • Fly-bys of random NEA's are useful, but not nearly as useful as information from/on planets.
    • The public could care less about flying next to a random non-comet rock. In fact, it might even hurt NASA's image doing things that the public might consider a "waste" of public money.

    There is a huge push for Mars because the public is interested in it, and the Government is interested in it. In general they are not interested in NEAs. Successful big missions to Mars will provide NASA with the support it needs to do more minor missions like fly-bys of NEAs.
  • by Iron Sun (227218) on Monday October 01, 2001 @09:22PM (#2376710)

    An average space probe nowadays costs about $350 million, and we can do it right now. NASA has firm plans to launch one or two Mars probes every two years, with the design of the 2003 and 2005 missions already well under way.

    Manned space flight , in comparison, is still hideously expensive. The final cost of the ISS will run into the many tens of billions of dollars in order to keep 6-7 people in low Earth orbit. A permanent Lunar base capable of supporting a similar sized research crew would be comparable in cost, at the very least. As for Lunar production/launch facilities, check back in a few decades.

    Don't get me wrong, I would love to take a Lunar holiday one day. But putting everything on hold until that remote possibility becomes a reality would hinder the very real and immediate science we can do for comparatively little right now.

  • by JoeRobe (207552) on Monday October 01, 2001 @09:40PM (#2376777) Homepage
    1) We simply cannot "catch" the spacecraft with the ISS. It's magnitudes cheaper to drop it into the ocean, and there's much less thought involved. Yeah we should use the ISS for something - this isn't one of them.

    2) Let's say we get the Hubble into the same orbit as the ISS. When the ISS needs to do something to it, you're proposing moving the entire ISS (Hubble certianly can't do it) to the Hubble then grabbing it? The ISS isn't designed to be moved very much at all, it's designed to float. It doesn't have the fuel to move very far. While it may be a great place to fix satellites from, it's not a towtruck.

    3) Satellites do not all have the same orbital altitude, and making a little "thing" (let's call it, oh, I don't know...CowboyNeal maybe) to go get them would require a lot of money and fuel. If we are going to get then in the first place, we're much better off letting the shuttle grab it and bring it in, like we have been doing. If we do any work on a satellite, we would probably need special replacement parts thatthe Shuttle would need to bring up anyways.

    Just my thoughts,

    JoeRobe
  • by Iron Sun (227218) on Monday October 01, 2001 @09:41PM (#2376781)

    mining asteroids can turn a profit (Mars probably can't)

    1) The discussion is about returning 500g of samples for scientific purposes, not stripmining other planets for profit.

    2) Who says mining asteroids would be profitable? It would cost at least billions of dollars to undertake such a mining mission to a NEA. We are still capable of mining ores here on Earth much more cheaply, and we aren't going to run out any time in the next few decades.

    we can use ION drives to get there (like Deep Space 1 used), but they don't work to-from Mars due to the gravity of Mars

    Guess you better tell NASA that. There are several exploratory design concepts that would utilize ion engines to get probes to and from Mars. You would need a complementary conventional engine to leave Mars orbit, but you would still make overall weight savings by using ion engines for the cruise phase.

    (steam is a fairly good rocket fuel in fact)

    Actually, it's a fairly crap rocket fuel as H2O. It's cheap and plentiful, which is why some concepts bother with it at all.

    getting lots of stuff from NEAs to orbit is looking cheaper than getting it from the earth, therefore it may be possible to send people to Mars using the fuel collected from NEAs; in the meantime we can turn a profit boosting satellites into GEOsynchronous orbit and such like...

    Its 'cheaper' in terms of fuel expenditure. In the real world of today, however, you would have to factor in the many billions of dollars that setting up your NEA fuel depot would cost. One day it will be the way to go, but your argument is like saying that we shouldn't spend millions on developing better silicon chip lithography because one day quantum computing will be much better.

    Basically Mars would be a white elephant right now. Cool as heck, but pointless.

    There is exploration and research that many people would like to see undertaken right now, rather than wait for Buck Rogers to do it for us when we are all old and grey.

"If that makes any sense to you, you have a big problem." -- C. Durance, Computer Science 234

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